6 Easy Ways to Use Less Plastic in the Garden

Even small changes to your gardening choices will help reduce what ends up in the landfill.

You use more plastic in the garden than you likely realize. For example, every plant from a nursery comes in a disposable plastic pot, has plastic plant tags, or comes in plastic seed trays. For the most part, you're done with labels and nursery pots after one growing season (especially with annuals). So, you throw them away and get a whole new set of pots and labels the next year. This practice can make an impact on the environment: It's estimated that a single plastic pot will take about 500 years to fully decompose. With a little forethought, there are plenty of ways to reduce the amount of plastic you use in the garden.

various seedlings growing labeled newspaper pots
Peter Krumhardt

1. Start plants from seed

When you start your plants from seed, you can completely avoid plastic pots. Most seeds come in paper packets that can be recycled or added to your compost pile. You can reuse items around the house to hold your seedlings, make your own biodegradable pots out of newspaper or paper towel rolls, or use biodegradable pots that can be planted right in the ground. If you are saving seeds from your own garden, keep them in tightly sealed glass jars.

2. Reuse or recycle plastic pots

If you already have a pile of plastic pots after planting your garden, consider reusing them instead of throwing them out. First, wash the pots with water and a scrub brush. Let the pots air dry, then stack them together to store until you need them again. Some nurseries and garden centers allow you to return your plastic pots to the store for reuse or recycling.

wood seed markers on rustic shelf
Jay Wilde

3. Choose wooden labels

Instead of using plastic plant labels in the garden, opt for wooden plant markers ($3, The Home Depot) instead. You can buy a set from garden stores or just use crafts sticks from the craft store and write on them with a permanent marker. They're biodegradable but don't break down too quickly so you can reuse them for a few years.

4. Buy soil and mulch in bulk

If you have a shed or other spot where you can store extra mulch and soil, buy these materials in bulk instead of buying dozens of smaller bags. Most types of soil, mulch, and compost come in plastic bags that have nowhere to go but into the garbage once you've used their contents. By buying in bulk, you can reduce the amount of plastic heading to the landfill. Also, check your local recycling or parks and recreation center: Oftentimes, cities offer free mulch from cut-down trees (with no packaging!).

5. Use metal watering cans

While plastic watering cans are cheaper, they're not always guaranteed to be recyclable. Plus, they're more likely to crack and break over time while a metal watering can will last much longer. You're always going to need a watering can for places the hose can't reach, so it's worth investing in a sturdy, long-lasting option.

6. Make your own pest repellents

After using up a store-bought pest repellent, most people simply toss out the empty plastic bottle. If you make your own repellent for mosquitoes or deer, you can use one spray bottle over and over instead of buying a new one each growing season. You're not eliminating your plastic use, but you're lessening it.

There's almost always a non-plastic or less wasteful alternative to fit your gardening needs. Even small swaps and choices help reduce plastic waste from your garden. When you're looking for garden supplies this season, if you can find a biodegradable or recyclable option, take it. Mother Nature will thank you.

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